Top prospect savors visit
By Marc Lancaster
Post staff reporter
The last time Jay Bruce set foot in Great American Ball Park, he was a wide-eyed, newly signed top draft pick who admitted he was giddy just to meet Ken Griffey Jr.
As Bruce watched Griffey take early batting practice Wednesday, it didn't appear that much of that enthusiasm had faded in the 19-year-old outfielder's first year as a pro.
"It's awesome," said Bruce. "For us to be able to come out here and watch him do what he does so well, probably one of the best to ever do it, I'm very fortunate and lucky to see that. I think I've learned stuff today just watching him."
It was a field trip of sorts for Bruce, who took advantage of a day off on the Dayton Dragons' schedule to visit Cincinnati along with teammate Eric Eymann and Dragons hitting coach Alonzo Powell.
Bruce and Eymann, a shortstop, soaked it all in during early work, perched alongside the batting cage as Griffey sprayed offerings from first base coach Billy Hatcher all over the ballpark. Griffey chatted with them between rounds of BP and generally went about his business as he usually does.
The man who aspires to be the Reds' center fielder of the future was impressed.
"His whole aura, he's such a nice guy and everything, and he makes it fun," said Bruce. "He still loves doing it. I think that's a big thing I've picked up, too, is how much fun everybody has. It's been really cool just walking around today and seeing everybody."
Bruce is at least a couple of years away from taking up full-time residence in the Reds' clubhouse, but he said he feels like he's right on track in his first full season as a pro. The Reds made Bruce the 12th overall pick in last June's draft and he signed three days later for $1.8 million.
The Texan played in 54 games last summer between the Gulf Coast League and Billings, but was sufficiently impressive that Baseball America tabbed him as the best prospect from the Pioneer League and the second-best prospect out of the GCL last season.
With low-Class A Dayton this season, Bruce is hitting .270 with 13 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 32 RBIs. His .869 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) leads the Dragons.
"I'm doing great, I'm having a blast," he said. "Dayton's a great place to play, a lot of awesome fans, and I'm off to a pretty good start so far."
Bruce said he's learning every day, particularly in his sessions with Powell. The adjustment from high school to the minors hasn't been as difficult as he expected, aside from baseball being his full-time job.
"I think maybe just playing every day - every single day - is an adjustment," he said. "And learning how to play through little ups and downs and little aches. I shouldn't be aching, I'm 19 years old, but some days you just don't feel up to par and you've got to find a way to stretch one out and play well."
There's no reason for Bruce to rush, and the Reds won't push him harder than need be. But when you're a baseball player standing in a major league stadium in a polo shirt and jeans, all you can think about is getting a chance to be on the field in uniform.
"Hopefully," Bruce said with a smile, "I'll be here before too, too long."